Texada group seeks economic link between island and Powell River residents

Entrepreneurs look to create connection

At this summer’s Diversity Festival, Texada Agriculture Group Society president Tom Read and a handful of volunteers walked up and down the ferry lineups with garbage bags in hand. They asked festivalgoers for recyclables, feedback of their experience and a couple of dollars if they could spare it.

By the end of the day, the group had 25 garbage bags filled, $260 in donations and learned that visitors were opting out of their yearly trip to Burning Man and Shambhala Music Festival and attending Texada’s intimate celebration of music, people and art instead.

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Read put the donations toward the Food Hub, a community kitchen “incubator,” which hopes to foster the entrepreneurial endeavours of local gardeners, farmers, cooks, bakers, and other home-based food producers. Funded by Island Coastal Economic Trust, the space will feature a licensed commercial kitchen and offer training and business development opportunities at a membership and event cost.

“It is one of the most, if not the most, innovative things that’s happening on this island,” said Read.

While innovation points to new entrepreneurial activity, Read emphasizes that the efforts of the Food Hub is also an homage to the agricultural history of the island. Texada Farmer’s Institute, for example, was founded when 36 farms banded together in 1913 to export produce to Vancouver and beyond, but quickly became defunct following the outbreak of World War I. Remnants of longhouse sites, hearths and deer carcasses also showcases the community activities of Tla’amin Nation long before the island was introduced to colonial infrastructures.

“Agriculture is part of our future and our past,” said Read, adding that he hopes the Food Hub can be a way residents “take charge of their own economic destiny.”

Housed at Texada Elementary School, the community’s hope for the Food Hub to become a catalyst for business growth stands in stark contrast to the school’s old infrastructure and shrinking student base. For recent transplant and Texada Island Chamber of Commerce president Cindy Babyn, this is simply the island showing its readiness for change; a change she said she hopes will attract a new generation of island dwellers, like herself.

Locals and visitors alike can turn to the first page of the Texada Visitors Guide to find out the kind of newcomer the island is looking for. Young outdoor enthusiasts, tradespeople and families looking for a safe place to raise their children are just some of the qualities the chamber’s newly published material describes.

Babyn has been key in reviving the chamber’s goals to “bring business back into the island.”

The visitor’s guide is one example of this. In the past year, the chamber has also updated its vision and mission statement to reflect growing interest in sustainable and hyper-local economic development, had business speakers at every dinner forum and instituted the Texada Chamber Awards, which received more than 350 votes from its population of 1,000.

For Babyn, however, the draw to Texada was a change of lifestyle. After 15 years as a federal government worker, serving in the Department of Culture as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, she wanted to design and build her own tiny home and put her art first, both of which she crossed off her list since moving to her friend’s yard a few years ago.

“It’s a bit of the wild west over here,” she said, pointing to out-of-the-box opportunities for housing on the island, including “fixer-up type” and portable housing. Local residents fed up with the lack of rental availabilities have formed a group that is currently in the process of creating a non-profit to provide modular homes. The group, which has met with qathet Regional District and Van Anda Improvement District, aims to fill the rental units with youth who are interested in any of the 30 jobs available on the island that have been unfilled due to the lack of long-term housing options.

“We need year-round people,” said Babyn. “There are a lot of black holes from October to May.”

Founder of Open Source Yoga Daniel Clement is one of those non-seasonal residents. As a small business owner, he is also drawing visitors to Texada in the fall months through this teacher-training program.

Students looking for a unique but affordable experience have said they prefer Clement’s certification because of its island getaway feel, intimate teaching style and a live-in option that makes the experience affordable and immersive. While Clement attracts clients from across Canada and internationally, Babyn said finding a way to draw Powell River residents to the island has yet to be uncovered.

“There are people from Powell River who haven’t even been here,” she added. “We’d love to be thought of as a place to take day trips.”

Outside tourism, Babyn said she sees a connection between the Food Hub and the future Innovation Hub coming to the Townsite Market in Powell River, both of which are funded by the Island Coastal Economic Trust. The project to create the innovation hub is led by the PR Creative Economy and Innovation Initiative, a joint initiative by Vancouver Island University, Powell River Educational Services Society, qathet Regional District, Tla’amin Nation and City of Powell River.

Babyn said she sees an opportunity for shared learning by attracting Powell River residents who want more hands-on gardening and food processing knowledge to become part of the Food Hub.

“[Texada] is a land of many hats,” said Babyn said of residents’ entrepreneurial activity. “It’s not seen as innovative here, it’s simply seen as trying to pay your bills.”

Texadans looking to set-up eCommerce, learn marketing skills or gain mentorship from established entrepreneurs can attend the various workshops, events and programs the innovation hub hopes to offer in the summer and fall of 2019.

“Community gathering is what we’ve always been about,” added Read. “All it takes is a little imagination to get us back there.”

Powell River & Beyond takes an extended look at economies that make up qathet Regional District. For more information on how an innovation hub can impact Powell River, go to prinnovationhub.com.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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